Two years ago today, I released my third novel, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. In the two years since, this little book and I have had a wild journey together. It was the first romance I published, which was nerve-wracking enough, but I’d decided to push the boundaries with the social issues I tackle in my writing.
A single dad, dealing with his daughter’s irresponsible mother while trying to put himself through college.
A tattooed Latina artist, determined to do more than just get by, and have a real career.
A little girl who brings them together through a Craigslist ad.
I wanted to crush stereotypes, to show the world that young single parents and tattooed women aren’t the “losers” they’ve all branded us as. It was my friends’ decisions to raise their children alone, but they never asked for strangers’ opinions on whether or not they’re good parents. It was my decision to get tattoos, but I never asked for customers at the jewelry store I worked at to rudely interrogate me about my body.
I wanted to tackle heritage, how colonization forces immigrants to assimilate into American culture, to give up the things that makes them unique, the things they eventually lose. Like the Italian my family no longer speaks, the Spanish my niece and nephew rarely use.
I also wanted to challenge gender roles and equality rules. Who says a man can’t raise his daughter alone? Who says that a woman can’t choose to be a nanny while she builds her career?
These things had been burning inside of me for years, and they all sort of bubbled out of me while writing The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. I knew that a “traditional” romance was never told from the guy’s point of view unless it alternated with the woman’s, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to break the mold.
Go big or go home, right?
I’ll probably never win any awards for this book, but I’m damned proud of it. It’s a great big middle finger to society and conforming, and that’s reward enough for me.
Single dad Max isn’t looking for love—or so he thinks.
Recently a popular book blogger announced that they won’t be supporting authors who talk about politics, their children, and other non-book topics. Artists have always shaped the world around us, since the world around us is what shapes our work. Looking back through history, artists have been on the frontline during any great social or political change—either through expression, or through persecution.
The first novel I ever published, Sade on the Wall, was a culmination of years of watching loved ones struggle with addiction and being powerless to save them. I’d recently lost a high school friend to a heroin overdose, a close relative had disappeared to crack addiction, and an ex-boyfriend hurt me physically and emotionally for years while succumbing to alcohol and multiple drug addictions. If I chose to not talk about my personal life or social issues, Sade on the Wall would not exist.
None of my books would exist.
Survivors of rape, sexual assault, and incest know better than anyone else what the price of silence is. Any trauma survivor knows. There’s only so long that you can squash down the things that hurt your soul. Eventually, it either consumes you or you have to free your voice.
You have to speak your truth.
In the past year and a half, I’ve begun speaking my truth. My voice gets louder and louder, and with every step of my journey to healing, I feel more free.
I will never be silent again.
I will continue to talk about my traumas, my autoimmune disease, my cat, and my godkids. And I will continue to talk about the horrible things that Trump and his cabinet are doing to my country and her people.
If we all remained silent, if we all kept the things that are important to us to ourselves, what would the point be in being human? Humanity is about connection; we’ve needed art to explain the world around us since the dawn of time. When we find others who share our experiences, we feel less alone. We are supported. We are able to press on and survive.
Too often we turn the other cheek to suffering. We walk past the homeless veteran begging for change, turn up the volume on our headphones while our neighbor beats his girlfriend, pretend not to hear other classmates make fun of a disabled student. The worst kind of silence is apathy. To refuse to speak out is to enable the suffering, to assist the oppressor. Few spoke against Hitler, and he systemically violated group after group of innocent citizens, altogether murdering millions and millions of people. Hardly anyone spoke against Roosevelt when he rounded up Japanese-Americans, took them from their homes, and put them in camps, violating their American civil rights in a hypocritical attempt to protect Americans.
I understand that many readers use books as an escape hatch. I know I always have. Some people don’t want to think or hear about bad things because they have enough going on in their personal lives. I completely understand needing to insulate yourself and create a safe space.
But I will not be silent for the sake of selling more books.
I’ve always written to make sense of the world around me and my personal life. I created Jett to cope with a family member struggling with alcohol abuse; I couldn’t make my loved one stop drinking, but I could write about Jett’s journey to recovery.
I can’t stop the Trump administration from persecuting Muslims and taking away my healthcare, but I can write about two teenagers fighting white nationalists in their city.
I can’t cure my autoimmune disease or control my pain, but I can write about a queer spoonie and the girl who rescues her from her pain prison.
I love my readers and I appreciate your support, but I will never change who I am for the sake of selling more books. First and foremost, I am an artist. A real person with real worries, struggles, and triumphs. Words are the only weapon I’ve ever had, and with them I speak the truth.
One thing I was determined to do in 2016 was read more. I often get caught up in the “should”s, as in I should be _____ instead of reading. (Really, you can replace “reading” with anything. I so need to stop “should”ing on myself!) My goal was to read 25 books; I read 31—or at least, that’s what Goodreads says. I didn’t track all of my reads, so I’m sure this number is a bit off.
The following 10 are my favorite reads from this year, in no particular order. Check them out, and load up your Kindle!
F*ck Love, by Tarryn Fisher
F*ck Love would, gun to head, be my favorite book of 2016. I read it during a weekend while Mike was away at an art show, and I couldn’t put it down. Helena and Kit’s story was absolutely insane, in the best way possible. Months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. This dark and gritty romance is exactly the tone of book I hope to write someday.
What’s better than a revenge story? A best friend’s revenge story! Lex Talionis also joined F*ck Love in my list of all-time favorites. This was another one that I couldn’t put down. It’s also got a romantic element that had me rooting hard, plus an ending that is super rewarding.
My mom kept recommending I watch Luther, the show on BBC about a detective who might be just as crazy as the killers he chases. I borrowed this from her and had to seriously reign myself in from reading it in one sitting. I then proceeded to binge half of the series; it’s going to be a while until the next season comes out, so I’ve slowed down quite a bit to savor it. Complex, mysterious, and smart, Luther is one of my all-time favorite characters. It doesn’t hurt that Idris Elba is so damn sexy.
These books are a back-to-back must. I can’t imagine having to wait for the sequel. I borrowed If I Stay from the library and basically cried my way through it. It was so poignant and heartwrenching. Where She Went was just beautiful, and worth running back to the library for.
The final book in the Collide series, Collateral was quite the grand finale. I’ve loved Harlow from the moment J.C. told me about her, and it’s been such a great experience watching her grow and come into her own. A suspenseful romance, Collateral is raw and real. And don’t even get me started on how freakin’ hot Jax is. He’s seriously the perfect boyfriend—and my all-time favorite book boyfriend!
This was the first book—that I can remember reading—with a disabled heroine that fully captures what it’s like to live in a limited body. I devoured it in one sitting because I loved Corey and I absolutely had to know whether she and Adam would be together. Though Adam is only temporarily injured, he’s the epitome of the perfect partner. I haven’t read the rest of the series yet, but I really need to get on that!
My sister brought this over one day, urging me to read it. I’d been wanting to, so no argument there! Malala tells the story of how she defied the Taliban and fought for girls’ education alongside her supportive father. It was such an inspiring and enlightening read. I was 13 on 9/11, so I remember it well but there was still a lot that I didn’t know; it was fascinating to read about the global effects of the so-called “War on Terror.” More importantly, Malala’s bravery was so empowering and uplifting.
Going in, I didn’t know that this was a breast cancer book, but I figured it out pretty quickly, as I have several loved ones who have fought breast cancer. Though it’s in a series, Pretty Pink Ribbons is a complete standalone. It’s quite the rollercoaster, emotionally speaking, but the ending is so worth every second of heartache.
This was another one that I devoured. Contreras writes so beautifully, and I fell deeply in love with Estelle and Oliver. I related to a lot of their problems, and I got really attached to their friends and family members. I picked up the complete series box set, so I’m still making my way through the rest of the books. Kaleidoscope Hearts was just lovely.
And now for something completely different! If you’re new to self-publishing or have been at it for a while and looking for a refreshing book with some publishing and marketing tips, Let’s Get Digital is an insightful, quick read. I promptly grabbed Let’s Get Visible to widen my education, and have already learned a lot.
There were some books that I started but didn’t finish because I just didn’t get into them, and there were others that were re-reads of old favorites. Honestly, I’ve been watching a lot of TV; by the end of the day, I’ve got too much brain fog to focus on reading. Still, I’m really happy with my reads for 2016.
What were your favorite books this year? Let me know in the comments below!